WordPress 2.6 released… a month ahead of schedule

WordPress Logo Peel Those guys at WordPress are really at it!! They’ve been churning out code like crazy šŸ˜€ As a result, the all new WordPress 2.6 has been officially released – a month ahead of schedule!

Here’s a quick rundown of the latest features…

  • Post revisions – WordPress 2.6 features Wiki-like tracking of edits, in effect acting like a version control system. This comes in real handy in case you want to nullify any mistakes and go back to a prior version of the post.
  • Press This! bookmarklet – Inspired by the quick-bookmarking buttons that are a part and parcel of almost all social media / network sites, this new bookmarklet lets you embed blog posts, YouTube videos, Flickr images etc. into your blog post at the click of a button.
  • Google Gears Support – WordPress 2.6 now takes advantage of the Google Gears pack to give you that ounce of extra juice that really speeds up your copy of WordPress while using the admin interface (by caching all CSS and JavaScript files locally). More on this to come in future versions…
  • Live Theme Previews – Earlier on you were required to activate a theme before you could see it in action on your site. Not so anymore. You can preview the theme live, without activating it and letting the world see it concurrently.

Among the lesser (smaller) improvements are…

  • Word count! Never guess how many words are in your post anymore.
  • Image captions, so you can add sweet captions like Political Ticker does under your images.
  • Bulk management of plugins.
  • A completely revamped image control to allow for easier inserting, floating, and resizing. It’s now fully integrated with the WYSIWYG.
  • Drag-and-drop reordering of Galleries.
  • Plugin update notification bubble.
  • Customizable default avatars.
  • You can now upload media when in full-screen mode.
  • Remote publishing via XML-RPC and APP is now secure (off) by default, but you can turn it on easily through the options screen.
  • Full SSL support in the core, and the ability to force SSL for security.
  • You can now have many thousands of pages or categories with no interface issues.
  • Ability to move your wp-config file and wp-content directories to a custom location, for ‘clean’ SVN checkouts.
  • Select a range of checkboxes with ‘shift-click.’
  • You can toggle between the Flash uploader and the classic one.
  • A number of proactive security enhancements, including cookies and database interactions.
  • Stronger better faster versions of TinyMCE, jQuery, and jQuery UI.

Here’s a brief video on the same…

Whew! That’s quite a list. I’m headed for the download page rightaway. I need to try it out, NOW! How about you?

Quick Tip: Uncompress / defalte your zip archives online with WobZIP

WobZIP LogoWobZIP is a cool new (and free) solution to bypass any sort of installation restrictions that your sysadmin may have placed on your school computers thereby limiting your ability to unzip certain types of archives. WobZIP lets you upload and uncompress files on-the-fly.

The service is very easy to use and can come in handy not only in the situation mentioned above but wherever you’re in need of quick decompression and a desktop based decompression utility is not ready at hand. It could be your friend’s computer, at a cybercafe – virtually anywhere. Just select the file you wish to decompress and hit wobzip.

WobZIP Screenshot

The decompression procedure is pretty fast and you’re presented with the list of files which you’ve to individually click to download. This can prove to be a pain specially in case of large archives with a whole bunch of files – but then again, one can’t grumble given the scenario in which you are forced to use WobZIP. Password protected archives are also supported and there’s a virus scanner running behind the scenes that ensures that you don’t accidentally download and execute infected files.

The service supports a wide variety of file formats like, 7z, ZIP, GZIP, BZIP2, TAR, RAR, CAB, ISO, ARJ, LZHCHM, Z, CPIO, RPM, DEB and NSIS – though there’s a file-size limit of 100MB (for the archives).

Another rocking feature of WobZIP is the ability to unzip remote URLs – which in other words means instead of uploading a zip file, you can make WobZIP read it off another webpage directly. This can prove to be a very powerful tool for previewing the contents of a zip file prior to download, selectively downloading a couple of files (that you require) from an archive… the list of possibilities is quite large.

Try WobZIP and see for yourself.

Found via: TheySay

Transform your Wii Remote into a digital whiteboard, a multi-touch screen and more…

Here’s a cool video showing how inventor Johnny Chung Lee transforms the Nintendo Wii Remote – a $40 game accessory into a digital whiteboard, a multi-touch screen and a head mounted virtual reality gear. Johnny is a PhD Graduate student at the Human Computer Interaction Institute at the Carnegie Mellon University and his project was recently featured on TED.

I needn’t say more… the video speaks for itself. There’s just one word for it – breathtaking.

The software required to make this hack work can be freely downloaded from Johnny’s Projects homepage. And while I was digging up more information on Johnny Lee, I came across one more of his innovations… a foldable interactive display. Here you go…

BlogSpot is blocked in Thailand… once again!

BlogSpot blocked in Thailand againOnce again the ISP’s in Thailand are at it – All BlogSpot based blogs are being actively blocked here. This came to my notice about 5 days back when I tried to access a friend’s blog and got a Network Timeout. I gave up thinking it was some temporary ISP hiccup – but the situation has continued to be the same for past 5 days. My suspicion was confirmed when I came across this forum thread today. Reports are pouring in from internet users around the country regarding the block.

The last time this had happened was around the middle of last year (May 2007). The ban was subsequently lifted sometime in June 2007. The reasons cited were political – which is understood, following the military government’s out lash against any liberal blog on politics that dared to speak favourably about deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

I’m scouring for further reports to figure out which all ISP’s are playing along, but I can say for sure about the one I use – i.e. TRUE INTERNET. By nature I believe it’s a simple domain block and the blogs can still be accessed using web-proxies, though apparently this is punishable by law (if caught). The BlogSpot blogs which use their own domain are still accessible.

As for the reason this time – I’m totally clueless.

Does anyone have any further information on this to share with us?

Create one-click disk images of USB Sticks & MP3 Players with USB Image Tool

Have you ever felt the need of backing-up your flash drive entirely? I mean keeping a backup of the stuff you’ve got on your USB Disk maybe as easy as just copying it all off to a folder on your hard drive – but how about a nicely compressed single-file image… something similar to the partition backup images created by Norton Ghost, Acronis TrueImage and the likes?

Here’s this tiny (97KB compressed) freeware utility named USB Image Tool that lets you do just that – minus the bulk and complexities of the above mentioned programs. The tool helps you create exact images of your USB memory sticks or MP3 Players (which are mounted as USB drives). Talking of MP3 Players – think of the ability to alternate between pre-defined sets (images) of music with the help of this tool.

Here’s a quick run-down of the features…

  • Create image files of USB drives
  • Restore images of USB drives
  • Compressed image file format (using XZip 1.3 routines)
  • Display USB Device information
  • Maintain a list of your favourtie images
  • Single click backups and restores through an extremely simple interface

USB Image Tool Screen-shot

The tool requires .NET Framework 2.0 to operateĀ  – so make you sure have it installed.

Incidentally, if you are still in the habit of using those frail little floppy disks, you can very well take the help of DiskXS – a similar tool by the same author, to create backup images of your disks before they decide to give up on you.

Get USB Image Tool here.

BSOD revisited

Here are two extremely funny renditions of the infamous Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) that is such a part and parcel of the whole Windows series… I dug them up from this site today.

Banging on the BSOD

BSOD after downloading 99%

Have fun !

Chawt: Send unlimited free SMS (text messages) worldwide

Just came across this new free service named Chawt which lets you send unlimited SMS (text messages) to any mobile phone across the globe (to over 160 countries). The service is brought to you by a company named Breathe Mobile. The site seems brand new (domain registration is as recent as 10th June, 2008) and the creator(s) have taken a very minimalistic (read bare bones) approach to the interface – the primary stress has been placed on functionality. The service is Singaporean judging from the registrant’s name.

Chawt Screenshot

On accessing the site, you’re greeted with a basic login/registration form and not much else. Registration is painless and involves filling up your details (name, login info.) and your mobile number. This isĀ  absolutely necessary for verification and completion of the registration process, for they send you an activation code at this number and you have to fill-in that number at a post-registration screen to activate your account. So you need to have your own mobile phone to be able to avail their services.

Once activated you can login and start sending messages right away. There’s a 80 character limit to the each message, but one shouldn’t grumble since it’s coming entirely free.

So what’s the catch? Well, this is a totally ad supported service. Each message you sent will carry a simple advertising text at the end. It’s non intrusive so try sending one to yourself now.

The messages get sent super-fast. I tried it on 2-3 different mobiles and on an average it tookĀ  around 2 second between hitting Send to that distinctive message beep on the phone. Surprisingly, the activation code took a while (around 10-15 seconds) to reach. The messages the sent using the mobile number used for activation – hence, recipients can reply directly to your phone. As for those simple text ads, they were present in the form of self-advertisements, which tells us that their ad inventory is yet to roll.

Overall, a super-fast, no-frills service that gets the job done with a 100% score, though lacking big-time in the eye-candy department. I guess that’s going to come later on once the service is established a bit. This one should prove to be a very good alternative to MobiK – the free SMS service which, despite all the eye-candy and big promises vanished away to nothingness (the MobiK domain now redirects to a site called bed.travel).

Why don’t you have a go at Chawt and share your experience with us?

How to display FeedBurner Feed Subscriber Count on a custom graphical background

Feed CountHere’s a nice trick I learnt a couple of days back. I wanted to display my feed subscriber count in a way that would match my site’s theme. I was tired of the vanilla feed-count display provided by FeedBurner – probably because you can find it on almost every other site these days (and I wanted something unique). So I got down to designing one on my own and I’m going to show you how to do the same for your site.

I won’t go into any lengthy (step-by-step) discussion on creating the graphical background – that’s something that’ll be your call. But I’ll teach you the core idea – fetching the feed-count from FeedBurner’s server using their API and displaying it on your site.

The Graphical Part

First and foremost, you need to decide on what kind of a display you want – small or large, dark or light. For example, I chose to display mine on a black background with medium sized font (see my RSS box at the top of the page). Depending on your background, you’ll need to either create or find a suitable RSS icon. You can find some excellent tutorials on creating feed icons here, here and here. Alternatively, you can download a whole bunch of free icons from here.

As a starter fire up your favourite graphics editor (Adobe Fireworks for me). For simplicity’s sake we’ll follow the same approach as I did with my feed-count box. Draw a black rectangle with rounded corners. Place your feed icon in a suitable place. Then draw another smaller rounded rectangle inside the earlier one, but with a lighter stroke colour (say white). This will be the container where you display your feed-count. You can throw in some fancy glow / shadow effects as you like. We should get something that approximately resembles the following image.

Feed Count Container Graphics

The image shown above was created with Fireworks and is an editable layered PNG file. If you’re using Fireworks, you can very well download this one (Right Click on it > Save Image), use it as a starting point and add/edit/resize it according to your preferences.

The Coding Part

You need to ensure that your web-host offers cURL (as an extension of PHP). By default, 90% of the web-hosts do – so you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. Secondly, the FeedBurner Awareness API (for your feeds) should be turned on. If you have been using the Feed Count feature of FeedBurner – then it IS already turned on. If not, you can login into your FeedBurner account, select the Publicize tab for the appropriate feed and activate this service. Once you’ve made sure of these two factors, we can progress to the actual coding.

Here’s the code you’ve going to need.

// Get FeedBurner Subscription Count - using FeedBurner Awareness API
function get_feedburner_count( $uri, $display = 'true', $format = 'true' ) {

	// Construct URL
	$apiurl = "http://api.feedburner.com/awareness/1.0/GetFeedData?uri=" . $uri;

	// Initialize the Curl session
	$ch = curl_init();

	// Set curl to return the data instead of printing it to the browser.
	curl_setopt( $ch, CURLOPT_RETURNTRANSFER, 1 );
	// Set the URL
	curl_setopt( $ch, CURLOPT_URL, $apiurl );
	// Execute the fetch
	$data = curl_exec( $ch );
	// Close the connection
	curl_close($ch);

	// Parse XML
	try {
		@$xml = new SimpleXMLElement($data);
		$fcount = $xml->feed->entry['circulation'];
	} catch ( Exception $ex ) {
		// echo 'Caught exception: ',  $ex->getMessage(), "n";
		$fcount = "?????";
	}

	// Display or Return, Formatted or Unformatted
	if( $display ) {
		if( $format )
			echo number_format( $fcount, 0, '.', ',' );
		else
			echo $fcount;
	}
	else
		return $fcount;

}

If you’re wondering where you’re going to add this code without messing up your theme – almost all modern WordPress themes have this file named functions.php, which contains the functions essential for registering the sidebar, tweaking specific WordPress routines etc. You can add this code to that file and it’ll be made available for calling from anywhere inside your theme.

The function is called get_feedburner_count() and accepts three parameters – two of which are optional. Here’s an explanation of the parameters…

  1. $uri – This is a mandatory parameter. If you don’t specify this one, the function won’t be able to fetch the feed count. The URI is the name you chose to represent your feed on FeedBurner. For example – my feed url is, http://feeds.feedburner.com/ChaosLaboratory. That makes my URI, ChaosLaboratory. This is what needs to be specified here.
  2. $display – This is an optional parameter. It takes up the values true or false. I have modelled this function on the lines of the general WordPress template functions – which means that the function is able to either display the feed-count directly, OR return it to you for further processing. If you don’t specify any value here, it’ll default to displaying the feed-count.
  3. $format – This too is an optional parameter and takes up either true or false. By default it is set to true. This tells the function to pass the feed-count through another formatting function, which adds a digit-grouping comma to it for every thousandth place. The formatting occurs on Line 31 of the code and you can modify that line to reflect any sort of formatting you want.

A typical call the function can look like,
get_feedburner_count( 'ChaosLaboratory' ); – this will print out the formatted feed-count directly

OR

$fcount = get_feedburner_count( 'ChaosLaboratory', false, false ); – this will fetch the raw (non-formatted) feed count and store it in a variable called $fcount. This doesn’t print the figure directly to the screen, but leaves it at your disposal for further processing

OR any variation thereof.

Now, we need to apply some styling to that background image we created so that the feed-count is aligned properly.

Note: I applied the styling on an anchor (link) tag, since I wanted to make the whole image clickable, so as to provide a way of subscribing to my feeds too. Here’s an example…

a#feedcount {
	display:block;
	width:120px;
	height:26px;
	margin:0;
	padding:5px 10px 5px 0;
	background:url(images/bg-feed.png) no-repeat transparent;
	color:#D6D6D6;
	font-size:2em;
	font-weight:bold;
	text-align:right;
	text-decoration:none;
}

Points to note here: On Line 1, I’ve declared display:block. This is necessary, since the a tag by default is an inline element – which means, it collapses to the exact width of the text contained in the anchor. This is not desirable here as we’re attaching the background image to the a tag, and we want it to adapt to the exact proportions of it (specified in Lines 3 & 4). I’ve aligned the feed-count text to the right (Line 11) and used a padding of 10px on the right (Line 6) so as to leave a comfortable gap from the right edge of the graphics.

The code-block above can be added to your template’s stylesheet file or in the header.php within style tags – depends on you. For me, I prefer to keep all the styling in one place, i.e. the stylesheet file.

Adding it to your template

Now that we’ve got all the code in the right place, it’s time to add it to the template. Open up the appropriate file (header or index) – where you want to display the feed-count and add the following lines…


	< ?php get_feedburner_count( "YOUR_FEED_URI" ); ?>

And that’s it! That should display your feed count with the custom graphical background and make the image clickable too, to act as a feed subscription button. The final effect should look like the following…
FeedBurner Feed Count with Graphical Background

Any questions / clarifications, feel free to write back.

Decided to give Defensio Anti-Spam a shot… over Akismet

Fighting SpamRight since the beginning of my blogging career, I’ve been using Akismet in conjuction with Bad Behavior to weed out spam from my blog. Akismet is as a natural choice since it comes parcelled with WordPress installations. As for Bad Behavior, I decided to use it after reading plenty of articles on effective spam filtering.

Akismet has worked just fine for me so far. It has it’s occasional false positives (marking legit. comments as spam) – but I’m all right with it, since I don’t get much of spam everyday (at the most a 100). While Akismet may be very good at catching spam, there’s one quarter it needs to be revamped big time. The list of spams in Akismet is presented in a paginated manner while displaying the full body of each spam, making the list unnecessarily large and extremely tedious to go through. As I mentioned earlier – I don’t receive much of spam everyday. So, it’s relatively easy for me to wade through the list and pick-out any false positives. However, imagine what a pain it must be for the larger blogs receiving thousands of spam comments everyday. There are big chances of a good amount of legitimate comments going down the drain along with the spam flood. To make the situation worse, lately there have been a lot of complaints about Akismet producing more and more false positives.

Defensio LogoAfter going through a bunch of reviews – both positive and negative, I decided to go ahead and give Defensio a try. For those who didn’t know, Defensio is a community-based anti-spam service similar to Akismet – but with certain added enhancements. They offer anti-spam solutions for a wide range of blogging platforms. It’s free for personal use while for commercial usage a nominal charge is levied on a per month basis.

Defensio sorts your quarantined comments by their “spaminess” value. This means that finding the occasional legitimate comment buried in your spambox (aka false positive) becomes dead easy: with Defensio you simply need to monitor the top portion of your quarantine to be confident that there’s no ham amongst your spam.

After I installed this plug-in, the first few spams that were caught were arranged into two distinct groups – Somewhat Spammy and Moderately Spammy. I’m yet to see the Super Spams… but I get the general idea.

A really nice feature of Defensio is that only the first line of the spam comment is shown (along with a link to display the full content). This makes for much better readability and sifting through the list. If you recall, I was grumbling about the lack of this in Akismet towards the beginning of this post. Score 1 for Defensio.

Before I forget, I’d like to mention one more contrasting point. When I had first installed Akismet and got my API key from WordPress.com, it gave me an insane amount of trouble to validate the key. This has been the same for any new blog I’ve helped install. For some reason, the validation wouldn’t go through for at least an hour following the registration at WordPress.com. However, with Defensio it was just click-and-go. Score 2.

Another distinct advantage of Defensio is that apart from the community anti-spam fighting feature, it operates on a blog-to-blog level.

This means that no two bloggers will see Defensio react in precisely the same way, even for similar comments, which is a good thing – because one person’s ham might be another person’s spam. And our continuously evolving set of algorithmic tricks ensures that we’ll never let spammers gain the upper hand.

Also available are RSS feeds of your comments and spam – which makes the monitoring less painful by curtailing the need to login into the Admin Panel on a regular basis. The Defensio site keeps track of your spam statistics and presents nicely decked-up charts that summarizes the evolution of spam and performance on your blog – a cool eye-candy feature to while your time away and “satisfy your inner bean-counter“.

Keep in mind, this is NOT an Akismet bashing post. I really respect the work of Matt and his team. They are the pioneers in this and without them – more than 80% of the WordPress based blogs wouldn’t see through a single day of Spam Attack. However, Defensio does offer a wider range of tools and features and that makes it a more viable option.

Now all I got to see is how well it handles my spam. On the initial try, it did get two false negatives – i.e. spam comments which passed through as legitimate ones. But since this is its teething phase, I’m going to overlook that and give it a chance to evolve according to my comment preferences. Will report back in a couple of weeks time (or two) on how well it’s performing.

BlogRolled: A brand new cashcow for your blog

BlogRolled LogoThere’s a brand new money earner for your blog up and about – BlogRolled. If you just made a wild guess regarding their modus operandi, you’re right! It’s a service that pays you for placing the advertisers’ links in your blogroll. At this point of time, the site doesn’t offer much information regarding the company.

The site itself contains a barebone outline of how their service is going to operate along with a sign-up section for both bloggers and advertisers. I came to know about it through this mail from ReviewMe, which stated that this service is brought to you by Shawn Nafziger, the president of Page1Promotion, LLC, an SEO consulting firm serving small business clients across the USA.

Blogroll overview

Now the first thought that pops in your mind when you hear of this service is – BLOGROLL !! That’s like prime real-estate. The average blogroll appears in the sidebar and nowadays it’s common practise to display the sidebar on all pages – whether on the blog index or along with individual posts. In effect, the links placed in your blogroll are highly visible to all Search Engine spiders, irrespective of the part of the site they are crawling. My point is, that each of the paid links must bring in a decent amount of cash in lieu of such high visibility (as opposed to text link ads placed on single posts). It’s pointless to give up such prime location to low paying advertisers.

I’ve signed-up with them and intend to have a deeper look at it. More on it later. Meanwhile, has anyone else out there started availing this service? If so, care to share your experience with us?